Sleepaway Camp

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Sleepaway Camp
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Hiltzik
Written byRobert Hiltzik
Produced by
  • Jerry Silva
  • Michele Tatosian
CinematographyBenjamin Davis
Edited by
Music byEdward Bilous
American Eagle Films[1]
Distributed byUnited Film Distribution Company[1]
Release date
  • November 18, 1983 (1983-11-18)[2]
Running time
84 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$11 million[4]

Sleepaway Camp is a 1983 American slasher film written and directed by Robert Hiltzik, and starring Felissa Rose, Katherine Kamhi, Paul DeAngelo, Mike Kellin (in his last screen appearance), and Christopher Collet (in his first). The original entry in the Sleepaway Camp film series, it focuses on serial killings which occur at a summer camp for pre-teenagers.

Filmed in upstate New York in the fall of 1982, Sleepaway Camp was released the following year by United Film Distributors. It earned approximately $11 million at the box office, but was met by largely unfavorable reviews from critics, many of whom deemed it exploitative and derivative of such films as Friday the 13th (1980).

In the years since its release, Sleepaway Camp has gone on to develop a cult following, as well as garnering notoriety for its twist ending, which is considered one of the most shocking in the horror genre[5][6][7] and in film history at large.[8][9] The film has also been subject to diverging criticism from modern reviewers regarding its themes of gender identity.

It was followed by four sequels: Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988), Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989), Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor (2012), and Return to Sleepaway Camp (2008).


In 1975, John Baker and his boyfriend, Lenny, take John's children Angela and Peter on a boating trip. After the boat capsizes, John and the children attempt to swim ashore. However, they swim into the path of a reckless motorboat and are struck. John and one of the kids are killed.

Eight years later, Angela, the surviving child, is now traumatized. She has been living with her eccentric aunt, Dr. Martha Thomas, and her cousin Ricky Thomas. Angela and Ricky are sent to Camp Arawak. Due to her introverted nature, Angela is bullied, with fellow camper Judy and camp counselor Meg her primary tormentors. The head cook, Artie, attempts to molest Angela as well. Later, an unseen figure causes Artie to get severely scalded by the water he is boiling. He is rushed to the hospital, and the incident is deemed accidental by camp owner Mel Costic.

Campers Kenny and Mike also mock Angela, prompting Ricky and his friend Paul to get into a fight with them. Paul befriends Angela. Kenny is later drowned after capsizing his canoe, his death also ruled accidental by Mel. Paul asks Angela to attend a movie with him and kisses her. Campers Billy and Jimmy pick on Angela, and Billy is killed next, stung to death when someone traps him in a public toilet stall with a beehive. Mel starts thinking there is a killer in the camp.

The relationship between Angela and Paul grows strained when Paul kisses her again, causing Angela to have a flashback to her youth when she and her brother witnessed their father in bed with Lenny. Paul is seduced by Judy, and the two are found kissing by Angela. Guilty, Paul attempts to explain himself but is shooed away by Judy and Meg, who throw Angela into the water. Small children fling sand at Angela; she is comforted by Ricky, who swears revenge on her aggressors. Meg is later stabbed to death in the shower.

A camp social is held. At the event, Paul apologizes to Angela again and she tells him to meet her at the water. Mel finds Meg's body. Four of the six children who threw sand at Angela are found hacked to bits. Soon after, Judy is killed by being vaginally penetrated with a lit curling iron. The camp is thrown into a panic with all the deaths. Thinking Ricky is the killer, Mel beats him into unconsciousness, then runs into the woods and encounters the real killer. In shock as to who it is, he appears to recognize the assailant before being killed with an arrow to the throat.

Police begin searching for the missing campers. Paul is at the beach with Angela, who suggests they go for a swim. The policeman discovers Ricky, unconscious but alive. Ronnie and Susie find a naked Angela humming and clutching a hunting knife and Paul's severed head. They are shocked to discover that "Angela" is actually Peter, her thought-to-be-dead brother. It is revealed that the real Angela died in the accident and Peter survived. After Martha gained custody of him, she decided to raise Peter as the girl she always wanted, already having a son. It is implied that Peter was mentally affected by seeing his father sharing a homosexual embrace with another man.

The nude and blood-covered "Angela" (with male genitalia in full view), stands before the shocked Susie and Ronnie who discover that she is the killer; Angela stares vacantly at both of them, hissing and growling at them like a wild animal.


  • Felissa Rose as Angela Baker / Peter Baker
    • Frank Sorrentino as young Peter
    • Colette Lee Corcoran as young Angela
  • Jonathan Tiersten as Ricky Thomas
  • Karen Fields as Judy
  • Christopher Collet as Paul
  • Mike Kellin as Mel Kostic
  • Katherine Kamhi as Meg
  • Paul DeAngelo as Ronnie Angelo
  • Susan Glaze as Susie
  • Loris Sallahian as Billy
  • Amy Baio as Brooke Warner
  • Tom Van Dell as Mike
  • John E. Dunn as Kenny
  • Ethan Larosa as Jimmy
  • Willy Kuskin as Mozart
  • Desiree Gould as Aunt Martha Thomas
  • Owen Hughes as Artie
  • Robert Earl Jones as Ben
  • Frank Trent Saladino as Gene
  • Rick Edrich as Jeff
  • Fred Greene as Eddie
  • Allen Breton as Frank the Cop
  • Lisa Buckler as Leslie
  • Michael Mahon as Hal
  • Dan Tursi as John Baker
  • James Paradise as Lenny
  • Paul Poland as Craig
  • Alyson Mord as Mary Ann
  • Carol Robinson as Dolores


The filming of Sleepaway Camp took place in Argyle, New York near Summit Lake at a camp formerly known as Camp Algonquin.[10] In interviews, screenwriter and director, Robert Hiltzik, has said that he attended that camp as a child.[11] The movie was filmed in five weeks starting in September 1982 and ending in October on a budget of $350,000. The film had been storyboarded but after the first day of filming, the film was already behind schedule. The storyboards could not be used and were thrown out.[3] The trees, with their leaves turning, belie the summer setting of the film.

Unlike many of its contemporaries, which had adults portraying youth, the cast of Sleepaway Camp was primarily made up of adolescent actors.[12]


Box office[edit]

Sleepaway Camp premiered in New York City on November 18, 1983.[1] It had its premiere in Los Angeles the following spring on May 25, 1984, screening in fifteen theaters and earning $90,000 during its opening weekend.[1] On June 10, the film ranked among the top-twenty highest grossing films at the U.S. box office that week.[13] By the end of its theatrical run, it had gone on to gross a total of $11 million.[4]

Critical response[edit]


Upon its original release, the film was frequently compared to Friday the 13th due to their shared settings and whodunit plot structure.[14] A review in The Courier-Journal characterized the film as a "low-budget slasher in the Friday the 13th mold, with teen-age mayhem at a summer camp",[15] while Rick Lyman of The Philadelphia Inquirer uniformly lambasted the film, criticizing its performances, writing, and twist ending.[16] Linda Gross of the Los Angeles Times felt the film was derivative and gruesome, but conceded that its pacing was adept and that director Hiltzik portrayed the often cruel and abusive behavior of teenagers towards another young person.[17]

In the Chula Vista Star-News's review, the film was deemed "a tasteless picture about mysterious murders at a summer youth camp that obscenely blends beheadings, stabbings, pubescent impulses, homosexuality, and transvestism" with a cast of junior-high-school actors.[18] George Williams of The Sacramento Bee made similar criticisms of the acting, and described the film as "mindless" and "dirty".[19] Paul Willistein of The Morning Call described the film as "simply horrible", writing that its campy sensibility is unsuccessful as it is "intended to be a bonafide horror film".[20]

The News-Press gave it a favorable review, calling it "a shockingly good slasher film, if you use the relatively fine, first Friday the 13th as a measuring stick... it's just another crazed killer stalking nubile summer campers. But, this time, there are some truly creative killings and interesting plot twists".[21]

Modern assessment[edit]

In the years since its release, Sleepaway Camp has developed a cult following and garnered critical reappraisal. Its twist ending has been distinguished by audiences and critics as one of the most shocking in the slasher genre's history,[5][6][7][22] as well as in cinema history in general.[8][9]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 81% of 27 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 6.5/10. The website's consensus reads: "Sleepaway Camp is a standard teen slasher elevated by occasional moments of John Waters-esque weirdness and a twisted ending."[23] On Metacritic, the film was reviewed by four critics and got a rank of 58 out of a 100, which indicates "mixed or average reviews".[24]

The website Bloody Disgusting gave the film a positive review, praising Felissa Rose's performance and the film's twist ending calling it "one of the most shocking seen since, possibly, Hitchcock's Psycho".[14] AllMovie wrote in its review on the film: "While most of the gender-bending story's sexual confusion is ultimately half-baked... Sleepaway Camp is distinctive enough to warrant required viewing for genre enthusiasts".[25]

Film scholar Bartłomiej Paszylk called the film "an exceptionally bad movie but a very good slasher".[26] Commenting on the performances in the film, film scholar Thomas Sipos wrote that "[the film] feels odd due to its contrasting acting styles. Most of the cast performs in a naturalistic manner, whereas Desiree Gould's performance as Aunt Martha is strikingly stylistic: broadly overplayed to the point of caricature".[12]

In his book The Pleasure and Pain of Cult Horror Films: A Historical Survey (2009), Paszylk characterized Sleepaway Camp as "elevat[ing] the kids to the position of the movie's mass protagonist and becomes a tricky metaphor of the unspeakable pains and anxieties of growing up".[27] He further commented on the film's conclusion: "The epiphanous ending brings Sleepaway Camp further away from the likes of Friday the 13th and closer to such 1980s 'slashers with a twist' as Happy Birthday to Me (1981) and April Fool's Day (1986), but Hiltzik's movie goes even further than that: in this case the denouement doesn't just add a new dimension to everything we saw up to this point, but it pushes its way deep into our minds and stays with us forever".[27]

The film was featured on episode 48 of the podcast How Did This Get Made? where hosts Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas, June Diane Raphael, and guest host Zack Pearlman struggled to decipher the film's opening moments, due to the ambiguous relationships established at the beginning of the film. Scheer later recalled that it had been the most fan-requested film "by a landslide".[28]


Sleepaway Camp has garnered contemporary criticism for its representation of a transgender villain.[29][30] Willow Maclay, a transgender writer for Cléo magazine, criticized the film for its "equation of mental instability with having grown up in a gender role not concurrent with your identity. Nearly every single transgender person grows up being raised in a gender role that does not fit, and that doesn't mean that they are mentally ill or seriously violent".[30] BJ Colangelo, in an editorial for Dread Central, similarly felt the film had transphobic and homophobic implications due to its representation of Angela and Angela's gay father, but conceded that the film has metaphorical merit for showing the unfavorable and violent consequences for a character who is forced into gender roles that do not align with their identity.[31]

Transgender activist Calpernia Addams argues that the character of Angela is not actually transgender, but has been forced to live as a girl despite being designated as a male.

Calpernia Addams, a transgender author and activist, commented in a 2021 interview with Fangoria that the character of Angela "is not even really trans...  This whole situation with Angela is a child who was forced into this quote-unquote transition".[29] She compared the character to David Reimer, a Canadian man who, as a child, was forced by his parents to live as a girl following a botched circumcision.[29] Addams further stated that the film should be assessed in the context of the period in which it was made: "I would just say that I enjoy Sleepaway Camp for what it is, which is schlocky '80s horror with a unique twist ending. And I think it's the worst possible portrayal of a supposedly trans storyline, à la Buffalo Bill, or Dressed to Kill, or any of those types of films. But at the same time, I don't want it censored or canceled. And if you just sit back and let yourself, it can be an enjoyable watch".[29]

Transgender writer Alice Collins of Bloody Disgusting said that Sleepaway Camp "is steeped in queerness, especially when compared to its contemporaries. In its day it took a deeper look into the subject matter than that of other films. Angela and Peter's dad is a closeted gay man, there's forced gender bending (which is abuse rather than queer but people will see it as such), and the majority of the scantily clad people in the film are men with all those very short shorts that leave little to the imagination while there is little skin shown of the feminine variety".[32] Collins argues that Angela is a transgender girl, noting that, in the film's sequels, Angela is presented as a woman who uses feminine pronouns: "So despite Aunt Martha being insane, she just happened to stumble upon a person who was already a girl; and it was an accident that her brainwashing worked".[32]

Actress Felissa Rose defended the film in a 2023 interview: "I absolutely don't feel like it's transphobic. I feel as though Angela was a typical adolescent trying to find her gender identification and sexual orientation and I thought that was extremely exciting for 1982. It was ahead of its time. You can see with her father and his lover as well as her relationship with Paul [her camp crush], who she was trying to understand her relationship with, I feel like it was an adolescent story of a young person coming of age".[33]

Home media[edit]

In the United Kingdom, the film was released on VHS by CBS/Fox Video under the alternative title Nightmare Vacation in the spring of 1984.[34][35]

In the United States, Anchor Bay Entertainment released Sleepaway Camp on DVD on August 8, 2000.[36] Anchor Bay reissued this disc as part of a four-disc set titled the Sleepaway Camp Survival Kit on August 20, 2002, which also contained the film's two sequels, as well as a bonus disc featuring footage from the unfinished third sequel.[37] This boxed set, which featured a medical red cross on the front cover, was discontinued in late 2002 after the Red Cross filed a complaint against Anchor Bay, which subsequently redesigned the box art to remove the cross logo.[38] In 2005, the Canadian-based Legacy Entertainment released a region-free budget DVD release of the film.[39] Unlike the original VHS release, this release contains numerous edits to the film to either shorten violence or certain moments like dialogue.[40]

Scream Factory released the film in a collector's edition Blu-ray set on May 27, 2014.[41] This release contains a 2K scan of the original camera negative, and this release also has the film in its original uncut version, unlike the DVD released by Anchor Bay.[42]

Other media[edit]


In the late 1980s, Hiltzik sold the rights to the successive Sleepaway Camp films, after which Michael A. Simpson directed two sequels, Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988) and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989).[27] In them, Angela (now played by Bruce Springsteen's younger sister, Pamela Springsteen) resurfaces at a nearby summer camp, but this time masquerading as a counselor after a sex reassignment surgery.[43] Much like at the previous camp, she gleefully tortures and kills anyone who misbehaves or annoys her. These films had more of a satirical comic tone than the original.[44][45]

Another sequel, Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor, directed by Jim Markovic, was partially filmed in the early 1990s but left incomplete.[27] In 2002, the unfinished footage was released and made available as an exclusive fourth disc in Anchor Bay/Starz Entertainment's Sleepaway Camp DVD boxed set. In 2012, the film was completed using archival footage from the first three films and released on DVD and Amazon Video on Demand.

A fifth film, Return to Sleepaway Camp, was completed in 2003 and initially struggled to have its visual effects completed. It was directed by Robert Hiltzik, the director of the original 1983 film. According to Fangoria, the digital effects were redone from 2006 to 2008. The film was released in 2008.[27]

The purportedly final film in the Sleepaway Camp series, titled Sleepaway Camp Reunion, was also announced to be in the works. Distribution had been arranged via Magnolia Pictures. Creator Robert Hiltzik, who recovered the rights to the franchise, has stated that he would make the film if his budget was met. However, Hiltzik and Return To Sleepaway Camp producer Jeff Hayes later announced themselves as having started work on a reboot that would retain the key characters and elements of the original film with additional storyline elements and a dose of modernizing. As of Summer 2014, Hiltzik was reportedly tweaking the script. In addition, Michael Simpson, the director of Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland, wrote a script for an additional film called Sleepaway Camp: Berserk.

Karen Fields reprised her role from Sleepaway Camp in the 2014 short film Judy, although it wasn't technically a sequel. The Jeff Hayes-directed film was included in the collector's edition Blu-ray release of the original Sleepaway Camp.[46]

By December 2020, another Sleepaway Camp installment was announced to be in development, starring Felissa Rose.[47]


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  2. ^ Sumner 2010, p. 171.
  3. ^ a b Hayes, Jeff; Klyza, John. "Sleepaway Camp Trivia". SleepawayCampMovies. Retrieved July 11, 2021.
  4. ^ a b Hafdahl & Florence 2020, p. 47.
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  38. ^ Zaccaria, Joy (November 8, 2002). "Article: Red Cross Invokes Logo Rights". Medialone News. Retrieved July 12, 2021.
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